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Monday, 15 July, 2019, 11 : 21 AM [IST]

Bahrain: Looking at enhancing tourism appeal by encouraging private investment into the sector

For hotel and hospitality investors, Bahrain’s attraction as an investment destination lies in its pro-business regulatory environment, low taxes and 100% foreign ownership nationwide with no free-zone restrictions, strong economic growth fundamentals, a talented workforce, and a hassle-free, connected digital infrastructure.

With tourism emerging as a new sun-rise sector across the Middle East and registering faster rate of growth than any other region, new investment prospects are emerging across the region’s leisure sector. From boutique art hotels to underwater theme parks, the region is already responding with affordable, travel products to satisfy emerging trends of the young explorers.

While countries across the region is pro-actively looking at tapping into this new business segment with friendly and welcoming policies, Bahrain, an important Kingdom, is setting examples both in terms of easing the access to the tourists as well as spreading the red carpet for investors to join and become part of the tourism growth story of the boutique island nation in the Persian Gulf. 

Steps to enhance the appeal:
The Kingdom has started working on a focused strategy to enhance its appeal as a tourist destination by expanding its network of source markets to Russia, Ukraine, Germany and China with new offices, and stopover deals from flag carrier Gulf Air. New four-day transit visas have been announced in addition to liberal policies that allow visa on arrival for citizens of 66 countries and e-visas for 33 other nationalities. On an average around 12 million people visit the island nation every year, vast majority being from the neighbouring Saudi Arabia. Saudis simply drive across for a fun weekend break through King Fahd Causeway. Tourism authorities are now positioning the country as perfect for a mini vacation or as a conference venue to other countries nearby.

Billions in Tourism Infrastructure Investment:
Bahrain is working on a series of government-led masterplans to fully develop its west coast, which is a mere 15 minutes from the King Fahd Causeway that connects to Saudi Arabia. New leisure facilities are expected to cater to these visitors. The world’s biggest underwater theme park, at 100,000 square metres, will open this summer, with attractions such as a fully submerged 70-metre Boeing 747 aircraft, a traditional Bahraini pearl merchant’s house and eco-friendly sculptures. Also nearing completion are two major leisure projects at Bahrain Bay, The Park and The Wharf, with seafront promenades and retail and F&B outlets. 

By the end of December 2017, Bahrain had invested more than USD 13 billion in tourism projects as part of an infrastructure development scheme, according to data from the Economic Development Board. About USD 10 billion has already been invested in some 15 new hotels – the new boutique Merchant House property is already drawing rave reviews for its original Impressionist art works, and IHG is set to open the 128-room Staybridge Suites Manama Al Seef in January, 2020. Another USD 1.1 billion has been spent on modernising Bahrain International Airport, raising its capacity to upwards of 14 million passengers a year.

According to the consultant KPMG, if the Kingdom is able to attract just one million more visitors each year – or 8% – an additional USD 190 million could be generated for the hospitality sector annually. Given the many factors working in the industry’s favour, that target could be achieved far quicker than expected.

International tourist arrivals to the Middle East and North Africa totalled 64 million in 2018, a 10% increase over the previous year as against a global rate of 6%, according to the UN World Tourism Organisation. Overall, the sector is expected to be worth to USD 350 billion by 2027, at a projected CAGR of approximately 5%. As of 2018, travel and tourism generated USD 237 billion or about 8.7% of the region’s GDP, according to estimates by the World Travel & Tourism Council.

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